What Were You Wearing?

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Sexual assault victims are often pushed aside, questioned,  and degraded. One of the most common questions asked of survivors is “Well, what were you wearing?”. This disrespects and devalues the experience of the person. Also, it is inferiorizing, especially after a devastating assault. These judgements against survivors are now ingrained in American culture. Colleges across the country are now taking a stand against these statements through art exhibits.

After the first exhibit was launched at the University of Arkansas, other schools took after this idea. University of Florida is one of those schools. Lazaro Tejera, a student at University of Florida, saw this movement and was determined to bring it to his community. He sent out an anonymous survey asking for sexual assault survivors to submit photos of the clothing they were wearing during the assault. Out of thirty-six responses, twelve sets of clothing were chosen to be put on display in the art exhibit.  

Image via CNN

In addition to the clothing the victim was wearing, the exhibit includes a short passage explaining their experience. The hope for this project is to open students’ eyes about the the impact of sexual assault. Also, it is used as a way to defend survivors against victim-blaming.

The University of Kansas had a similar exhibit on display in 2013. The stories shown were made more real by the clothing on display as well. Jenn Brockman spoke to the HuffPost about why she became involved in this project. She wanted “to be able to create that moment in this space where [viewers] say, ‘Wow I have this outfit hanging in my closet,’ or ‘I wore this this week.’” and “reveal the myth that if we just avoid that outfit then we’ll never be harmed or that somehow we can eliminate sexual violence by simply changing our clothes.”

Photo Credit to Jennifer Sprague

Beyond just these two schools, the idea is spreading. Florence Bacabac spoke to The Seattle Times about the exhibit on display at Dixie State University. “It’s not about what people wear, who they are, where they were at time, what their identities are, or even about their decisions or decisions they didn’t make — it’s about who caused the harm,” he said. That is the essence of this project exactly: to make a statement about sexual violence and the shaming involved.

Regardless of the clothing they were wearing during their assault—be it a red dress, a bathing suit, or an infant’s nightgown—survivors’ stories deserve to be heard and not devalued.

Featured Image via Baylor University’s Twitter

About the author

Kendall Sommers is a freshman day student from Southborough, Massachusetts. She runs cross-country and will be trying squash and crew this year. She is also a tour guide and participates in Students for Sustainability, GSA and St. Marguerite's Partnership. She loves trying new types of writing, painting and playing with her two dogs. Kendall’s favorite thing to do is volunteer at Special Olympics and work with kids. She can’t wait to be a part of the Parkman Post and find a voice in her community.

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1 Comment

  1. Olivia

    I love this. Very important. Well written work.

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